Pioneer Camp 2016
For the past three summers, I’ve counseled a week long summer camp at the La Foret Conference & Retreat Center. Pioneer Camp is one of the many summer camps hosted by the Rocky Mountain Conference of the United Church of Christ, and it’s something I absolutely love to do. I love counseling so much that I made it so that my return date from Brazil made it possible for me to go and counsel.
Why do I love Pioneer Camp so much? There are so many reasons, but I’ll try and narrow it down some. First, the staff. Gavin, Courtney, Cameron, Kenny, JoAnne, Teddy: I love you. Everyone but Kenny was a returning staff member, but he seamlessly fit into the team. On many nights after we get the kiddos down, we find a way to meet up. Usually this is outside one of the cabins with us whispering so we don’t wake anybody up. Obviously, it doesn’t always work perfectly, because we need to have at least one person in each cabin. But it is always a ton of fun.
La Foret. This place is my home away from home. I couldn’t have thought of a better place to come straight to after ten months in Brazil. The view of Pike’s Peak was especially clear the week of Pioneer Camp.
The kids. Boy do I love the kiddos. At times they can be frustrating, annoying, and many other things besides, but at the end of the week I am always very sad to see them go. They are cute, they are funny, they are smart, they are so many amazing things. I love so many things about camp, but I will always come back for the kids. Pioneer Camp is one of the youngest camps that the Rocky Mountain Conference hosts: any kid going into second grade through fourth grade may attend for the week.
Tuesday night was campfire night. During the week we had a fire ban, so the campfire was really the camp around an empty fire pit singing songs and playing games. The six girls from my cabin were all sitting together, and they spent the entire evening playing with dirt. One girl, Molly, was licking her thumb, sticking it into the dirt, and licking her thumb again. I wasn’t really paying a ton of attention, since I led many of the songs, but another counselor saw and put a stop to it. By the end of the night, each girl was covered in dirt. Another girl, Kendall, had dirt all over her face.
While we were walking back to our cabin, Courtney and I told the girls that they had no other option but to take a shower that night. During our walk, Kendall, Courtney, and I had a conversation that went something like this.
Kendall: “My face is itchy.”
Me: “Well, that’s what happens when you get dirt all over your face.”
Kendall: “I don’t have dirt on my face.”
Courtney: “When you take a look in the mirror I think you’ll find that you have dirt on your face.”
Kendall: “But I can’t see myself!”
Me: “Once we get back to the cabin you’ll have to go look in the mirror and you’ll see that you have dirt all over your face.”
Kendall: “I don’t have any dirt on my face!”
This conversation persisted in a similar vein the entire walk back to the cabin. When we did get back, Courtney told Kendall to go straight into the bathroom and look at her reflection in the mirror. From the front part of the cabin, Courtney and I both heard a loud, “My face is covered in dirt!” We both laughed.
One dinner I was sitting next to a kid named Aaron. I asked him if he would please pass me a napkin. Aaron passed me the nearest already used napkin on the table. I clarified that I would really like a clean napkin. He said, “Oh!” like he’d never realized that I would have wanted that in the first place and then passed me a clean napkin.
On talent show night, Teddy, JoAnne, and Kenny’s cabin performed a song called “Ant In My Pants.” The song included kids looking like they were going to jump right out of their pants there were so many ants. It was a kind of you had to be there moment, but I can assure you that all counselors not participating laughed so hard they cried. Literally.
Molly got married to her stuffed gorilla. The girls were either bridesmaids, they walked Molly down the isle, or officiated the wedding. Courtney played her guitar and I simply attended.
When the boys heard about the wedding, they had a field day. One boy named Jason was particularly fixated on it. He kept asking the counselors about the “marry-age.” Then he persistently asked us if we were married, and throughout the week matched us up to different counselors as our future spouse. I was married to Gavin, Courtney, and Cameron at different points throughout the week.
Right around Thursday everybody started getting tired and cranky. Symptoms: Laura left Molly out of something leaving Molly lying on her bed in tears. Later that same day, Molly slammed the door into Laura’s face, announcing that her room was having “private third grader time” and effectively leaving Laura out. Courtney took care of both incidents — I didn’t have to calm down any crying children that day. However, before bed, Courtney and I decided that we should have a cabin discussion about community.
To make a long story short, Courtney and I came out of that discussion feeling like we were the best counselors ever. Not only did the girls genuinely seem to understand that they were a part of something bigger than just themselves as an individual, but they finished the discussion by going around in a circle and saying that they each wanted to be a counselor when they got old enough. High praise indeed.
Right after we finished that discussion, we did Pow-Wow-How. Pow-Wow-How was something we did every night right before bed. It was just a way to reflect on our days. Pow is something not so good about the day, Wow is something good that happened that day, and Wow is how God was seen or experienced that day. Each camper was not required to answer every question, but each of us had a turn every night to share.
Molly is a camper that always wants to go first or last. This night was no exception, because she went last. Her Pow-Wow-How went something like this:
“My Pow is, ummm, I don’t really have a Pow. My Wow is, I don’t really have a Wow either. Okay, for my first How…” And so it went.
Molly started listing things as her Hows. These things included, but where not limited to, seeing light in the pool and while she was walking down the path. To clarify here, Molly was going for content rather than substance. I completely acknowledge that God can be found in many different places, but Molly was just listing things to make it obvious that she’d seen God more than the other girls. But I’m also all for each person saying what they want to say, and paying attention while the campers are talking. Everybody has something important to say, no matter how nonessential it might seem.
Anyway, Molly is listing Hows. Right around her seventh How, Courtney and I made the mistake of glancing at each other. We completely lost it. We both started cracking up — I think we both were crying we were laughing so hard. Finally Courtney and I both managed to pull ourselves together, apologizing to the girls profusely, and told Molly to continue. Molly made it to eleven Hows before Courtney and I both lost it again. Another girl asked us if we had a case of the nighttime giggles, which we both quickly agreed that we did indeed have such a case.
I spent some quality time staring at the wall, trying to get myself under control.
To put things into perspective, Courtney and I went from an awesome counselor moment where everyone was sharing there feelings and talking about being a part of an awesome community to a not so awesome counselor moment where we laughed uncontrollably during another camper’s sharing time. Not our best moment. But if you had been faced with that situation I challenge you not to laugh.
After we pulled ourselves under control for the second time, we told Molly that she was done and asked the other girls if they had anything else they wanted to add before bedtime. Kendall said that she had some more Pows to share, in her very specific Kendall-like manner.
“Umm… Umm… My first Pow is…. Umm… I forgot! Oh, yeah! I remember. My first Pow is…” And off she went, styling her Pows in the way that Molly had styled her Hows. Courtney and I both cracked up for the third time in as many minutes. That was when we decided to call it quits, but not before Molly’s hand had shot up again, announcing that she had two more Hows to share. We told the girls that sharing time was over for the night, and to get ready for Lights Off, and barely made it to our room before losing it again. Courtney told me later that she had wanted to ask Molly if she saw God while flushing the toilet.
Upon writing this story, I still laugh.
One kid named David waddled around camp the entire week with his hand on his crotch. No, he did not have to go to the bathroom. I guess he just needed constant reassurance from his steadfast friend.
I love little kids and I love counseling. It might sound like something to avoid: being around small children for 24/7, but I don’t want to miss next year if I can avoid it. I don’t really have a very satisfactory ending, other than I ran out of funny stories to tell. Parents, I love your children, no matter how much of a handful they are. I love camp.